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SWS' Silent Film / Film Noir Christmas List 2023


It can be challenge when it comes to getting that special present for that film fanatic in your life; although, to be honest, it can be even harder if they are a silent film or film noir fan (or both). Fear not then because below is a selection of related presents (updated for 2023) which will keep them entertained over and beyond this festive season.


Do let us know if you have any favourites or thoughts on any books or films you have recently read/seen...

BOOKS: SILENT FILM:

There are so many great silent film books out there. Of course Kevin Brownlow’s trilogy on the history of America’s silent film made up of The Parade's Gone By... , The War, the West, and the Wilderness and Behind the Mask of Innocence: Sex, Violence, Crime, Films of Social Conscience in the Silent Era are most certainly the most significant books which should make up everyone’s silent film book collection.


Other titles which make this pantheon of key silent film books include David Robinson’s Chaplin: His Life and Art (as well as Robinson’s From Peepshow to Palace: Birth of American Film), Barry Paris’ Louise Brooks biography, Walter Kerr’s The Silent Clowns and Richard Koszarski’s Fort Lee: The Film Town, Rachel Low’s seven volume The History of the British Film (1896 – 1939) and Jay Leyda’s Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film.


Most recently, there has been a good run of fiction and non-fiction titles including;

The Story of Victorian Film by Bryony Dixon

I have one issue while reading this perfect book on the history of the early/pioneering years of cinema and that is I have to keep putting it down and checking out the films mentioned inside either on the BFI Player or on YouTube. Thankfully, Bryony Dixon’s wonderful book is beautifully illustrated (as all film books should) and so well written it does keep me away from grabbing that phone all the time.


The Story of Victorian Film is a journey through an age which many either forget or leave behind now and we really shouldn’t. The filmmakers and the titles mentioned within the book not only establish the film/television as it we know it today, but, in fact, in an age of TikTok, the films of the Victorian age are much closer to us than ever before. I couldn’t recommend this book for all cinema lovers enough.


Billy Wilder On Assignment by Noah Isenberg and Translated by Shelley Frisch

Much has been written by the great Billy Wilder, but his early life during the Weimar Republic seems to be rushed through in the many books covering his life. Thankfully this book (which I ended up reading late 2023) really set a marker. In fact, nearly all of it is written by Wilder himself and the sense of the genius writer and filmmaker we would later come love can be found within the many articles and entries which were published between 1925 and 1930.


Wilder’s written assignments cover many aspects of life and culture in and around Vienna and Berlin; from film stars, dance halls, coffee houses, theatres and cinemas. If you want an adventure into the unknown, but with an old friend; then I couldn’t enjoy anything better.


As an accompaniment to this great book it is worth getting yourself a copy of Flicker Alley's most recent Blu-ray French Revelations: Fanfare d’amour (Fanfare of Love) & Mauvaise Graine (Bad Seed) which includes Billy Wilder's only film he made in Paris between his flight from Germany to America in 1933. Highly recommend!

While co-director Peter Walsh suggests:


Charlie Chaplin vs. America: When Art, Sex, and Politics Collided by Scott Eyman

The status of Charlie Chaplin as a beloved icon of the silent era is practically written in stone, incontestable in many eyes. But Chaplin’s reputation has only ossified after his death as the many rumours of his personal life, and the great arguments over his political leanings fade from the wider public consciousness. A new tome by film historian Scott Eyman promises to shove a poker into those embers, and rake over the history of one of the century’s most fascinating figures in a balanced and unsensational way.


The very definition of a rags-to-riches character, Chaplin’s rise made him a figure loved by thousands, but reviled by a select and influential few. The anti-nationalist politics of The Great Dictator worried more than just the fascist leaders it sent up, and Chaplin came under the microscope of the still relatively young FBI. Add to this ugly divorces, and souped up sex scandals, and you get a fascinating volume that digs into the man, and the moment in history, above and beyond the films.


Well reviewed and available on audiobook, I’m looking forward to diving back into a bit of Chaplin history on long wintry walks.


In the fiction side of things, look no further than:


The Illusions by Liz Hyder

An epic adventure in 19th Century Bristol, involving magic and some of the key British film pioneers of the time you say? I’m in! There is a great amount of fun in this book, I just don’t want to spoil it for you. If you like death, mystery, film and magic then this is it.


BOOKS: FILM NOIR:

As for film noir, well, where to start. Fiction wise, there is plenty of classic hardboiled fiction out there and even more new titles are making an appearance thanks to the to work of Hard Case Crime which includes works by Michael Crichton, Stephen King, Samuel Fuller and James M. Cain.


Another key name is of course, James Ellroy and anything by Ellroy is worth checking out, especially his newly released The Enchanters. Also worth checking out the Ellroy biography, Love Me Fierce In Danger: The Life of James Ellroy by Steven Powell.


A little bit closer to home in the UK. Worth getting a copy of Natalie Marlow's first book in her William Garrett series, Needless Alley. Plus you want have to wait long for the second book, The Red Hollow is released in March 2024 and Natalie will be joining us for another Film Noir UK screening around that time as well.


One final, book recommend, which originally came from Natalie herself, we recommend Dominic Nolan's Vine Street; it's a cracker of a read... and a monster of a book.


Non-fiction, you have to have anything written by Eddie Muller particularly recent titles published via Blackpool Productions as well as the Turner Classic Movies publications including Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir which you can read James Harrison’s full Film Noir UK review here.

The most recent publication is Eddie Muller's Noir Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the World of Film Noir (Turner Classic Movies). This is an extremely entertaining book, not just full of recipes for cocktail fans, but the book itself is crammed with plenty of noir facts as well as brilliantly illustrated throughout.


I recommend getting this book ready for Christmas Eve and trying out a number of the recipes through the Christmas holidays so you are ready for New Years eve!


DVDs/BLU-Rays: Silent Film

2023 has been another bumper year for silent film fans. Criterion continue to plough through key titles from some of the big names of the silent era with Chaplin's The Kid (1920) released earlier this year and The Circus (1928) arriving just in time for Christmas.


Another fine release from Criterion was the fantastic Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers: Freaks, The Unknown and The Mystic boxset which includes 1927's The Unknown (at last) and Freaks (1932) both titles are key pointers for not only for Browning’s career but also for cinema overall, so another boxset worth getting.


Dragnet Girl (1933) gets the release it has been asking for years as well thanks to the BFI's Three Films by Ozu boxset. Eureka's Masters of Cinema label continues to release (or re-release) some classic silent titles including The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) as well as Pandora's Box (1929).


Talking of another title which we have been wishing for a release for years was Erich von Stroheim’s legendary 1921 epic Foolish Wives. Thankfully Flicker Alley have save the day again by release San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s restoration. If you love your Laurel and Hardy then you can't go wrong with Flicker Alley's release of Laurel and Hardy: Year One. Both of these releases are another example on the importance Boutique Labels working with key restoration organisations.


Another great example of such a collaboration is Kino Lorber’s multi award winning Cinema’s First Nasty Women boxset, and on this occasion (compared ot many Kino releases) the box set is also region free! So another perfectly produced boxset, fingers crossed on future releases like all of these.

DVDs/BLU-Rays: Film Noir:

There are plenty of great noir related titles which were released this year and plenty of champion labels out there showcasing the best of film noir.


Indicator continues to make their mark with another fantastic boxset with Universal Noir Vol.2 joining last years other great Universal Noir boxset. This new boxset includes, Lady on a Train (1945), Time out of Mind (1947), Singapore (1947), A Woman's Vengeance (1948), AN Act of Murder (1948) and The Lady Gambles (1949).


Then there's the label's reissues which have included Badge 373 (1973), Joesph Losey's Time Without Pity (1957), Johnny O'Clock (1947), The Dark Past (1948), Convicted (1950), City of Fear (1959), The Snpier (1952), Between Midnight and Dawn (1950) and Ridley Scott’s 1980s neo noir Someone to Watch Over Me (1987) which is great to see back on the shelves.


Criterion have been busy with Carl Franklin’s great One False Move (1992) as well as Martin Scorsese’s great After Hours (1985).


While Arrow have caught up with their 2020 Film Noir Collection release with two more noir boxsets involving Universal Pictures as well. Arrow Video Four Film Noir Classics Vol 2 which includes The Suspect (1944), The Sleeping City (1950), Thunder on the Hill (1951) and Six Bridges to Cross (1955) was released in March.


August saw the Vol 3 boxset which was released with In Calcutta (1946), Ride the Pink Horse (1947), Outside the Law (1956) and The Female Animal (1958).

Miscellaneous

Ok, some extra ideas here suggested by regular SWS followers, all very random, but you never know.


The BFI Socks or Vertigo Socks (“Can’t go wrong with socks at Christmas really”)

A Slapstick Festival Pass (“Always a good start to the year”):

A Hippfest Festival Pass (“Such a fun silent film festival and a great weekend”)

Buying copies of Noir City Magazine (“The best God damn noir magazine out there! Or you could always donate to the Film Noir Foundation directly”)

Subscription to Sight & Sound Magazine (“I love the digital archive as well of course”)

Subscription to Cineaste Magazine (“Can’t be sure how I can live without this magazine now”)

Subscription to Cinema Retro Magazine ("I keep forgetting to subscribe at the beginning of every year and there is always a rush at the end of the year to get all of the issues before they go. I love this magazine!")



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